Thursday, February 01, 2018

The Tenure Portfolio

I was with a young colleague yesterday and she was showing me all the stuff she had to do for her tenure packet. She had a list of accomplishments that went on for pages. I was kind of in awe. She was on the PD committee at school. I knew that because I'd invited her. I thought it would be good to get the viewpoint of a new teacher.

Watching her work was kind of bothering her because it was 2:50. That's when she and I are officially off the clock. I was very proud of myself because I was actually preparing to leave at the regular time. That's rare for me. I told her we have to leave, we have to leave right now, and that we owed it to ourselves not to wait another moment. Get out of here, she said, she needed to work on her portfolio. Besides, she had to coach the swimming team at five o'clock.

Who coaches a swimming team at five o'clock in a school that doesn't even have a pool? Why isn't this young woman out somewhere having a life? Even worse, in her free time she dances in the school shows, and practices to dance in the school shows. She's actually given PDs for our department, again recruited by me. (I have no idea how I ended up recruiting people to give PD. I myself had never given PD at any time until this very school year.)

I was looking at all her stuff. I'm teaching thirty years longer than she has and I haven't done a fraction of what she has. In fact, when I started teaching I didn't have the remotest notion what I was even doing. On the ninth day I taught, I was observed. The observer, my AP, wrote that I didn't seem to know what I was doing. "Of course I don't know what I'm doing," I said. "I told you I didn't know what I was doing when you hired me."

She didn't take that very well. I used to sit in her office and she would tell me stories about making meatballs. She also told me charming tales about a high school student who she was now living with. She had to be 15 years older than me. Why the hell was she living with a student, and worse, why did she think I needed to know about it? She would tell me how cute I was. It was bizarre. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. I had no interest in my AP beyond someone who could hopefully tell me what I was supposed to be doing, but that never happened either.

The only support I got was some required after-school class for new teachers, taught by a dean. The dean made it very clear that his dean gig was only a stepping stone. He was gonna be an assistant principal. Every Tuesday we'd learn all about what you needed to be an assistant principal, why assistant principals were important, and how the best route toward becoming an assistant principal was via being a dean. I wonder whether he ever became an assistant principal. If he did, he may be making teachers miserable even now.

I had four preps when I started teaching. That was until a few weeks in, when they took away the only prep I had two classes of. Then I had five preps. I would sit for hours after school and write lesson plans, which I really didn't know how to do. Every Friday I had to submit capsule lesson plans on a big grid sheet of the 25 lessons I was going to prepare the following week. It was harrowing. I considered taking a job working for Federal Express that paid slightly more money.

I was an English teacher then. I was friends with another English teacher, a young woman. One day she was subbing and I watched our principal make her cry in front of a class. It was very disturbing.

Soon thereafter, I made a big mistake. I waited for my AP to help me make grades because she told me she would help me make grades. The deadline for grading passed, and I was told to just make the damn grades. So I did. I was then persona non grata, as I learned when I wanted to teach a new book for one of my five classes. Since I had only managed to collect and return 20 copies of Ethan Frome, a book I had not selected (and did not like at all), I could only get 20 copies of Flowers for Algernon, which was the first book I got to choose. (In retrospect, I'm not so crazy about Flowers for Algernon either.)

A kid named Frankie, who kind of looked like John Travolta in Grease, told me don't worry Mister I can get you the books. Frankie was an interesting kid. One day, he brought in what looked like a switchblade, and showed it to me while there were very few of us in the classroom. I weighed my possibilities.

"Don't bring your toys to school," I told him.

He opened it to reveal a comb. I was relieved. I hoped not to show it, but who knows? I haven't got what you call a poker face. Frankie, good as his word, produced the extra books and I gave him an extra ten points on his report card. A deal's a deal.

Because I switched licenses, choosing to teach ESL and turning down the first English appointment I was offered, it probably took me six years to get tenure. Back then we didn't have tenure portfolios. If you made it through three years, acquired a real license as opposed to the temporary per-diem I started with, and were still breathing and working, it just kind of happened.

I'm kind of surprised it did, actually. My first semester I must have broken records for miserable attendance. I would take gigs playing guitar with local bands on weeknights and call out the next day. Back then I found playing guitar a lot more fun than teaching. As I said, I had no idea what I was doing.

The next year I got sent to Kennedy, where I taught music and had the first supervisor of my career who was Not Insane. It was amazing having a supervisor who actually supported and encouraged me, who answered questions. The only serious caution he gave me was, "Stay away from those girls." That was fine with me. I didn't take the job to meet girls anyway.

The thing is, if I'd had to make up a tenure portfolio back then, it would probably consist of tales of things I'd survived to get there. I lived through this Principal from Hell. I survived a crazy AP. I listened to a shallow self-serving moron talk about himself while he was being paid to help us. I bargained with students to steal books that were required for my class.

I have to tell you, my young colleague's portfolio looked a whole lot better than mine would have.
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